Interview number 4 of our virtual round table: David Lincoln, Digital Lead at ABB Measurement & Analytics
IEN Europe: What’s the role of IoT in today’s factory? Why is it so important to undertake the digital transition?
D. Lincoln: In today’s factory, IoT is increasingly acting as the bridge between the Operational Technology and Information Technology environments where data from the production environment can be collected, analysed and deployed to help with informed decision-making and improve performance.
By building the connectivity to enable communications between smart devices and systems, companies provide a channel for their data to travel through. The goal is to use digital technologies to assist with growth, reduce costs or improve quality, identify ways to enhance productivity using the data and provide a competitive advantage.
When it comes to embracing digitalisation, there is still confusion amongst many companies over what’s involved, how to approach it and the overall benefits that can be expected. These are collectively stalling the pace of change and it is worth looking at examples such as the banking segment which have already gone through a major digital technology-driven transformation to help identify issues such as potential pain points and how they can be overcome.
IEN Europe: How much is digitalization part of your company’s strategy and why?
D. Lincoln: Digital is at the heart of ABB’s strategy. We are a pioneering technology leader in the provision of innovative industrial digital technology solutions covering electrification, automation, robotization and process digitalization. Launched two years ago, our ABB Ability™ digital solutions offering provides the framework and tools enabling our customers to realise the full benefits of Industry 4.0, from device to edge to cloud.
Key to this is the possibility to run the ABB Ability™ platform as an open architecture and cloud infrastructure, allowing customers to use other software from partners, suppliers and developers. Coupled with our extensive portfolio and domain expertise, ABB Ability™ allows us to provide our customers with the tools, systems and support they need to enhance their productivity and competitiveness.
IEN Europe: Digital thread or digital threat? What’s your opinion?
D. Lincoln: In a world where companies across virtually every sector are introducing digital technologies into their operations, a failure to follow suit and prepare is a preparation to fail.
Digital is a huge opportunity for both vendors and customers. For us as a vendor it is important to embed digital across our organisation, not only in the solutions we can offer but also in digitising our own factories to enhance productivity.
For our customers, digitalisation represents a wave of disruption that has the power and potential to transform industrial processes, from controlling inputs from the supply chain through to limiting outputs in terms of emissions and energy wastage. By providing the thread that joins up production processes, digitalisation provides the intelligence needed to optimise performance at every stage, ensuring that the end result – whether it is a manufactured product, a chemical or a supply of treated water – can be efficiently produced and will meet the expected levels of quality and consistency.
IEN Europe: What are the main challenges when talking about digitalization? How to limit the side effects of the digital adoption?
D. Lincoln: One of the biggest challenges is in getting companies to understand what digitalisation is and how to implement it. In particular, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that applies to every need. Instead, every case is different, with a wide variety of factors that need consideration. The best advice is to plan thoroughly, identifying which aspects of an operation can be digitalised and whether there are any associated issues such as connectivity or compatibility that might affect successful implementation.
Another important factor is the management of cyber security. Given the continually evolving nature of cyber attacks, cyber security should be a continuous improvement process. For this reason, a company’s digital strategy needs to have a complimentary cyber security strategy to monitor and evolve with the threats that present themselves. The entire organisation needs to have cyber awareness and continuous improvement programmes, as well as ensuring customer solutions are secure and updated as required to protect against new threats as they evolve.
Digital adoption relies on partnerships and it is about becoming closer to the customers. In many cases, this may even include co-development, whereby the vendor and customer work together to develop a bespoke solution tailored to their specific requirements. Where this occurs, it requires a different relationship to the traditional vendor customer model, often involving a different skillset. There needs to be trust and there needs to be people who can listen to customer needs and define solutions that will solve customer problems.